Rohnert Park mayor, staff & some residents reel disrespected and left out of the discussion of a project on their border
The Young-Armos farm incubator project will be back before the Rohnert Park City Council on Tuesday, March 22, 2016.
Item 8A on the meeting’s agenda will be a presentation by Bill Keene, General Manager of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and Stephanie Larson of the University of California Cooperative Extension about the project – an overdue appearance before the council, declared members of the Rohnert Park city staff and Mayor Gina Belforte at the council’s March 8 meeting. Judging from the commentary on March 8, and the letter of opposition Belforte has created for consideration at tomorrow’s meeting, supporters of the project have a long ways to go if they truly wish to get the Rohnert Park community onboard.
Belforte, City Manager Darren Jenkins, and numerous residents of Rohnert Park clearly felt they’d been left out of the planning process for the District’s 45-acre site, which lies just across the city’s northeastern border, on District-owned land between Snyder Lane and Hunter Lane.
According to Jenkins, the County accepted an invitation to appear before the council to discuss Young-Armos on March 8, but later “declined to attend” that meeting, well after notice had been publicly posted regarding the meeting’s agenda.
The Open Space District, meanwhile, was busily conducting two public meetings regarding the project – a “Neighbor Input Session” on February 8 and another session on February 11 to discuss early conceptual designs for the incubator, farm programming, and possible next steps.
Mayor Balforte vehemently deplored the County’s handling of those two public meetings, as well as what she saw as a lack of concern on the County’s part for the input of Rohnert Park residents regarding a project immediately adjacent to a residential subdivision.
“What really concerns me on this is, there’s been a two-year process that this has been going on with not any input from the city at all until February, and that’s because Joe Netter happened to have his radar up, and he said ‘Timeout, what’s going on?’”
Netter is a former Rohnert Park city manager who lives in the adjacent Park Estates subdivision, and has been organizing residents in opposition to the incubator farm. The group has submitted a petition containing 125 signatures of residents opposed to the project.
About the District’s first February meeting, Balforte said “I was shocked when I talked with Shirlee Zane’s assistant, and her characterization of the meeting was that our residents were out of control, angry, shouting people down and I didn’t get that sense of the meeting at all. What I saw was passion that people have because they thought the county was trying to shove something down their throats, without asking for their input.”
“That’s just the wrong way to govern and it’s the wrong way to represent your people.”
“At the next meeting, our assistant city manager was there, and the gal tried to do the same thing – force her own agenda on the citizens of Rohnert Park, to the extent that our assistant city manager had to stand up and say, ‘Could you please just listen to our residents?’”
Netter told the Press Democrat that opponents of the project supported local agriculture, just not in that particular location.
“We love farming. We love the idea of being innovative,” he said. “However, we feel it (the incubator farm) is too close to a residential subdivision.”
County Supervisor Zane has suggested that opposition to Young-Armos had “not been respectful,” but vowed to keep it moving forward.
“Just because a handful of angry people, and one neighbor in particular, have come forward, I don’t see a need necessarily to abandon two years of work,” she was quoted as saying in the Feb. 24 Press Democrat article.
Mayor Belforte found particularly objectionable public comments she said “publicly assaulted the City of Rohnert Park when they said ‘Your home is known for big boxes, intense housing development, traffic and a casino. Do the right thing.’”
The City Council on March 8 declined to support a letter penned by Belforte in opposition to the project, but appeared unanimous in its belief that the Open Space District and Bill Keene had better show up for the March 22 meeting if it really wishes to make nice with the neighbors and push forward on this project.
Public commentary at the March 8 meeting was decidedly mixed, with Rohnert Park residents generally skeptical of the project, and other commenters more supportive.
The Greenbelt Alliance’s Teri Shore asked the Council to refrain from sending its letter of opposition for the time being, and the Councilmembers agreed, opting to wait and see the presentation by project supporters on March 22.
Your comments in person at Rohnert Park City Hall, 130 Avram Avenue, or via email are encouraged. Email addresses are below. The meeting begins at 5 pm.
[email protected] Mayor Gina Belforte
[email protected] Vice Mayor Jake Mackenzie
[email protected] Councilmember Amy Ahanotu
[email protected] Councilmember Joe Callinan
[email protected] Councilmember Pam Stafford
[email protected] City Clerk
The Greenbelt Alliance recently issued a report – Homegrown: Tools for Local Farms and Ranches – which elaborates upon numerous ways Bay Area communities can support local agricultural endeavors at the county level.